The Italian town of Baveno on the banks of Lake Maggiore was the setting for D&M Group – the parent company of Denon, Marantz and Boston Acoustics – to unveil its 2011 range of home cinema and hi-fi products to the European press, and all three companies have plenty of killer products up its sleeves. Here we take a look at what the companies have to offer.
In the AV receiver market, one of Denon’s key aims is to filter its premium networking features down to a greater number of AV receivers at lower price points, as well as adding Apple AirPlay to all of the company’s network-enabled models. That should make the budget to midrange sector a competitive place this year, with companies like Pioneer also adding AirPlay to its current line-up and market-leader Onkyo throwing in similarly alluring features like Spotify access.
Denon has also recognised that the world of AV receivers can be a scary place if you’re not au fait with the technology (hey, even we get a bit flustered at times), so that’s why it’s introduced a new graphical user interface to help home cinema newbies install them. This includes a new Setup Wizard that guides you through every stage and explains each option, using photos and dialogue boxes. Unlike previous Denon models, the video is conveniently superimposed over the picture. Add this to the Audyssey auto setup technology found in all but one of the new models, and a row of ‘Quick Select’ shortcut keys on the front panel, and this could be the most user-friendly Denon range ever.
It’s also Denon’s most environmentally-friendly range ever. Receivers that feature HDMI CEC, ARC or pass-through have to keep the HDMI board powered up, and in most cases that means the main transformer has to run it. Denon’s new models use separate power supplies for the HDMI board and network circuit, which means they always stay below 3W in standby. According to Denon’s figures these features mean that the AVR-1912 costs £12.80 to run over five years compared with £237 for an unnamed competitor.
There are three new network-enabled models being introduced this year. The AVR-3312 is the most advanced of these, although a number of higher-end models continue in the range (including the AVR-4810 and AVR-4311). The AVR-3312 comes loaded with a mind-blowing array of features, chief among which is of course is its ability to connect to the web via Ethernet. This provides access to online services like Napster and Last.fm (although not Spotify at this point, but Denon says it will add ‘additional services in the near future’) and lets you stream audio from PCs and other devices on your home network – supported formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC and FLAC-HD).
But obviously the most eye-catching feature is AirPlay support, which allows you to stream directly from Apple devices (iPhone, iTouch, iPad) or PCs/Macs running iTunes to the Denon receiver, and control them using an iPhone (using the free app). This feature is available out of the box (unlike the CEOL, which requires an £39 after-sales update) and because the software-embedded feature has low jitter and a short signal path, Denon says sound quality benefits as a result. The AVR-3312 also supports Windows7 PlayTo, but that’s not nearly as cool. Denon says it will add Android and iPad apps later this year.
Elsewhere the £999 AVR-3312 boasts a very appealing spec sheet. It packs 7 x 165W from its fully discrete power amplifier, comes equipped with Audyssey’s new MultEQ XT calibration feature (plus a Pro mode that allows an Audyssey-trained engineer to calibrate it even more comprehensively) and sports seven 3D-ready HDMI inputs, as well two outputs that can emit signals simultaneously. And of course all of the new receivers boast the same high-quality engineering and attention to detail that we’re used to from Denon.
Moving down the range we find the £499 AVR-1912, the lowest-price network receiver in the range, which comes with all the same key features as the 3312 but drops the power down to 7 x 125W and loses the Audyssey Pro mode. Moving into the budget section, we find the £379 AVR-1612 and £249 AVR-1312, which pack 5 x 120W and 5 x 110W of power respectively, and both provide four HDMI v1.4 inputs. Unsurprisingly neither of these feature network functionality but the AVR-1612 adds a USB port and Setup Wizard missing from the AVR-1312’s no-frills spec.
Just two players are found in Denon’s 2011 range, the DBP-2012UD and DBP-1611UD. Both are universal players, spinning SACD and DVD-Audio as well as Blu-ray (3D and 2D), DVD and CD, and both support DLNA streaming of audio, video and photos. A firmware update in July will add YouTube access to the feature list.
The step-up DBP-2012UD adds full 10-bit i/p and scaling, courtesy of its Anchor Bay ABT-2015 chip, other Denon tech like Noise Shaped Video (NSV) and Dual Discrete Video Circuitry (DDVC), 7.1-channel analogue output, 32-bit-192kHz DACs on all channels and a dual-layer top plate. Look out for a review of the DBP-2012UD very soon.